Standing up against human trafficking

LANSING—Comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to crack down on human trafficking and support its survivors is on its way to the governor, said Sen. Judy Emmons, who led the effort in the Michigan Senate.

“Loud and clear, Michigan is speaking out and standing strong against a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise that devastates the lives of thousands of women and children every year,” said Emmons, R-Sheridan. “Human trafficking is a scourge that requires a comprehensive solution, and we stood united as parents, lawmakers and Michiganders to approve landmark reforms to end this modern-day slavery and support its survivors.”

Emmons said that after Thursday’s action by the House and Senate, 22 bills are heading to the governor’s desk that would address human trafficking in Michigan, including increasing penalties, training and survivor support.

Among the approved reforms is Senate Bill 584, sponsored by Emmons and named the Theresa Flores Act. It would eliminate the statute of limitations for any offense related to human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation of children and increase the statute of limitations to 25 years for adults.

The bill is named for Theresa Flores, a Michigan native and the author of The Slave Across the Street, her personal story about how she overcame human trafficking. As a survivor and renowned expert on human trafficking, Flores has worked closely with Emmons to raise awareness on the issue and develop the legislative solutions approved on Thursday.

“The battle against human trafficking starts with raising public awareness, and we have made great strides in that effort,” Emmons said. “This package will give Michigan some of the strongest human trafficking laws in the nation and are an important step forward in a fight against a criminal industry that is second only to illegal drugs.

“I look forward to seeing these bills signed into law, giving Michigan key legal tools to prosecute traffickers, rescue and assist survivors and help train those on the front lines.”

Reforms in the package include bills to increase penalties for soliciting a minor prostitute, adding “Johns” who solicit minor prostitutes to the sex offender registry, creating a “safe harbor” for minor victims of trafficking and establishing a permanent Human Trafficking Commission.

“As a mother and grandmother, it is particularly alarming to me that 80 percent of survivors are exploited sexually and 40 percent of cases involve the sexual exploitation of a child,” Emmons said. “Under these reforms, healthcare officials will receive the proper training to accurately identify and help individuals who have been trafficked and state assistance will be better allocated for human trafficking survivors.

“I made it my personal mission to protect our children from human trafficking and these bills will make Michigan a safer place to live and work, and better protect our children every day.”

Senate Bills 205-206, 584-585, 587, 590, 592-593, 597 and 602 and House Bills 4021, 4867, 5012, 5025-5026, 5158, 5231, 5233-5234, 5236-5237 and 5239 now head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.